One man was killed in clashes early today (23 November) in the second city Alexandria, one of several towns that saw unrest.
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who has run the ruling military council since mass protests unseated his long-time ally Hosni Mubarak in February, made a faltering televised address Tuesday in which he promised a civilian president would be elected in June, about six months sooner than planned.
Confirming Egypt's first free parliamentary election in decades will start Monday, the council also accepted the resignation of the civilian prime minister and his cabinet, who had incensed democrats with a short-lived proposal that the army remain beyond civilian control under any new constitution.
But Tantawi angered many of the youthful demonstrators on Cairo's Tahrir Square and in other cities by suggesting a referendum on whether military rule should end earlier - a move many saw as a ploy to appeal to the many Egyptians who fear further upheaval and to divide those from the young activists.
"Leave! Leave!" came the chants in Cairo and, in an echo of February's chorus: "The people want to topple the marshal."
Long into the night, while small groups on the fringes skirmished with police in clouds of tear gas, those occupying the main square sang: "He must go! We won't go!"
It is a battle of wills whose outcome is hard to predict.
Protestors dig in
The field marshal, hanged in effigy on Tahrir Square in a visual echo of Mubarak's final days, seems intent on preserving the armed forces' vast business interests built up over six decades of effective military rule. But there was no renewal of earlier heavy-handed efforts to clear the area.
Parliamentary elections will start this coming Monday - a plan confirmed at a meeting between the army and politicians - but they will take till January to complete. It is not clear how a referendum on military rule might be organised, nor what alternative might be proposed until June's presidential vote.
The European Commission said yesterday (22 November) it was "closely monitoring the situation" and hoped that elections could still go ahead (see background), because it wanted to see the results of the Arab Spring "coming to fruition".
A Commission spokesperson said the EU had offered to send an observation mission, but the Egyptian authorities have preferred not to accept international help for their election process.
Tantawi, 76, defence minister under Mubarak for two decades, appeared hesitant, speaking in field uniform, as he told the 80 million Egyptians his army did not want power:
"The army is ready to go back to barracks immediately if the people wish that through a popular referendum, if need be."
Many of the protestors saw the suggestion of a referendum, vague in its content, as a ploy to split the nation.
A military source said Tantawi's referendum offer would come into play "if the people reject the field marshal's speech," but did not explain how the popular mood would be assessed.
Tantawi may calculate that most Egyptians, unsettled by dizzying change, do not share the young protestors' appetite for breaking from the army's familiar embrace just yet.